>>  Tuesday, February 04, 2014

I sense the start of a new trend.

Is Somerville the new hot favorite location for Cambridge's best chefs to open up their second, more casual outpost?

Less than a year ago, Tony Maws (arguably one of the best chefs in Cambridge if not all of Boston), opened up his second, more casual restaurant The Kirkland Tap & Trotter in Somerville.

And then there's Chef Tim Wiechmann and his wife Bronwyn Wiechmann, co-owners of T.W. Food, yet another one of Cambridge's best restaurants. In 2013, they opened up their second restaurant Bronwyn, a more casual tavern featuring German, Central and Eastern European food, also in Somerville.
And now there's Ana Sortun, chef-owner of the notorious hard-to-book Oleana in Cambridge. At the end of 2013, she opened up Sarma, a small-plates ("mezes") type restaurant modeled after the traditional meyhanes of Turkey. Again, in Somerville.

Bryan and I decided to cross the border into Somerville to visit Sarma after hearing some great things about it. We showed up one rainy evening with two friends (plus a one-year old!).
The cozy, brick-covered interior serves as a welcomed contrast from the pouring rain outside. The ambiance is warm, casual, and convivial. There's a decent noise level - just enough that if the one-year old starts screaming, it's not the biggest deal in the world.

The menu is divided up into several sections, including "Meyhanes" (snacks - $5-$10 each), "Mezes" ($6-$14), Vegetables ($6-$10), Pancakes ($9-$13), and "Shish" (meat? - $9-$13). There are also servers walking around with trays full of special dishes not on the menu, which you can instantly grab and enjoy. It's sort of like Chinese dim sum, but without the carts.
Ana Sortun is known for her famous deviled eggs at Oleana, so it's no surprise that these Black Truffle Pine Nut Deviled Eggs were floating around on trays as a special that night. These were delicious - creamy, savory, yet surprisingly tart -  the perfect little bite to whet our appetites.
On that particular day, my friends and I arrived earlier than Bryan did. Bryan had a pretty hard time looking for parking. It's something to note - definitely give yourself a bit more time to circle for parking if needed.
While we waited, we ordered a few items off of the "Meyhanes" snacks portion of the menu, like these crispy fried Hot Dates, which were filled with warm goat cheese and topped with crushed pistachio in a cranberry-harissa sauce. _DSC5130
I really enjoyed the Spicy Peppers with peanut dukkah ($8). Fresh Shisito peppers are deep fried and tossed in a fragrant mix of floral spices. Because I seldom eat Turkish cuisine, there is a part of me that's not used to these flavors. It was tasty, yet foreign, and wasn't quite comfort food for me. It would be hard for me to eat these flavors every single day.
Duck and date kebabs were served over a squash puree. Since I'm not a huge fan of duck, I let my friends each have one of these.
I do love Haloumi Cheese, so I requested this next simple dish, haloumi cheese wrapped in vine leaves served with roasted grapes and a raisin emulsion ($8). I liked the sweet/salty balance of the sweet grapes and the salty cheese, and the bite was satisfying and complete.
The Lamb Souvlaki with lots of herbs and Greek style potatoes ($16) was very good. I gravitated towards the fantastic potatoes, of which there were (sadly) only three pieces.
I did not expect to love this next dish, but the oven-roasted Broccoli with smoked green wheat and spicy feta sauce was excellent ($9). I loved the smoky char on the broccoli, and the spicy feta sauces added a lovely complexity to the whole dish.
This Roasted Pork Loin with Blue Cheese Custard, Mandarin Oranges, and Pear was a special that was being passed around. We ordered one dish while waiting for Bryan and liked it so much that we ordered another one after he arrived.

Not many people cook pork medium rare like this (still pink in the middle!), which is the best way to cook pork. The pork was juicy, tender, and all around well-executed. The delicate balance between sweet (from the oranges) and savory (from the pork) was perfect.
I also loved the Brussels Sprouts Brava, perfectly charred Brussels sprouts topped with crumbled hazelnuts and chorizo ($10). The flavors are bold, spicy, and deliciously satisfying.
The Octopus, served with heirloom bean plaki, celery, and olives ($13) is also fantastic, with beautiful, rustic flavors and fresh ingredients.
For dessert, we ordered a Baklava and Homemade Frozen Yogurt, which comes with your choice of toppings. Each topping is an additional $2, which adds up rather quickly. Honestly speaking, none of us really liked the desserts. Perhaps it was partly misplaced expectations. We were hoping for baklava that was flaky and moist, with many layers and honey. This baklava was on the dry side, heavily filled with all sorts of dense goodies, like various nuts and dried fruit.

I found the frozen yogurt underwhelming. It was more like a light soft serve, with a decent flavor (reasonably tart!) but nothing special. The toppings were OK, but nothing special.

Initial Thoughts
Aside from the disappointing desserts, we really enjoyed our dinner here. There were definitely some standout dishes, such as the Brussels Sprouts Brava, the pork special, and the octopus. Overall most of the dishes were solid. It's refreshing to taste flavor combinations that are so different from the usual seasonal, local, French / New-American gastropub (which I still love, but sometimes gets a little boring). The ambiance is friendly and casual, and it wasn't too hard for our friends to bring their 1-year old daughter. Service was a bit jarred (the timing of dishes came in spurts and was sometimes slow), though that could be attributed to the fact that it's a relatively new restaurant.

I think it's most certainly a great addition to the neighborhood. For me, I'm thrilled to see more and more of these casual, cozy neighborhood restaurants that offer excellent food at a lower price point than their high-end Cambridge counterparts.

It's a great way to experience the talents of some of the area's greatest chefs without breaking the bank.

249 Pearl St
Somerville, MA 02145
Sarma on Urbanspoon

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